Protecting Archaeological Resources

caribou fence 2

Caribou fence remains within the boreal forest in the southern portion of the Refuge.




Why is archaeology important?

Archaeologists study the physical traces of past peoples and their cultures, improving our understanding of our collective human past.

Artifacts are perhaps the best-known items of study. These include all moveable objects (such as tools, hand-worked objects, or handicrafts) that have been made, modified or used by human beings.

Features are objects (such as cooking hearths, rock walls, or storage pits) that cannot be removed without destroying their basic integrity.

Human remains are less-commonly encountered, but hold particularly sacred value to their ancestors living in the area today. These remains are the physical remnants (such as bones, hair, skull, etc.) of past individuals.

These are collectively called archaeological remains.

Clustered concentrations of archaeological remains on the landscape typically are defined as archaeological sites. The patterned configuration of sites with their associated physical remains provides a valuable archaeological record of long-term human use of a place–-a record no less important at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge than at National Parks, such as Mesa Verde in Colorado or Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, better known for their spectacular archaeological remains.

Although artifacts, features, and human remains may be studied and appreciated in isolation from one another, it is their context (their spatial and temporal relationship to one another; their relationship to geological features in the ground; and their relationship to other sites across the landscape) that provides the most meaningful information about the past and gives the objects and sites their greatest scientific value.

How can I help protect archaeological resources?

Archaeological remains at Arctic Refuge represent a uniquely important record of long-term human activity in the area. The Refuge encompasses the traditional homelands of Inupiat Eskimos and Athabascan Indians, and continues to provide opportunities for their traditional subsistence uses that have occurred since pre-historic times.

Any archaeological remains you may encounter while visiting the Refuge should be left intact and undisturbed. This archeological record provides a means to understand past peoples’ ways of life, how the area fits into broad regional subsistence and settlement patterns, and how those patterns have changed through time.

If you encounter archaeological remains while visiting the Arctic Refuge please do not touch them. Document artifacts, features, or human remains by identifying their content and location, and report this information to the Refuge when you return. You can contact the Refuge at

[This information was adapted from text by Greg Burchard, Park Archaeologist at Mount Rainier National Park.]